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The Cultural Imagination of the Recorded Voice, 1877-1940
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Dr Bennett Hogg
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Bennett Hogg PhD thesis: The Cultural Imagination of the Phonographic Voice, 1877-1940 Abstract This thesis argues that the cultural effects of phonography can be traced most vividly in its relations with the human voice, and that this is registered most explicitly not in music but in literature. The encounter of the voice with phonography traces a cultural nexus of the human-machine relationship, and the thesis proposes that the phonography be read in terms of this relationship as a four-fold prosthesis - as writing, memory, listening and speech. The primary sources consist of literature from the first thirty years of the twentieth century, and the writings of Benjamin, Adorno, Freud, and the development of Freud’s ideas by Lacan. Lacan’s ideas also inform the analytical perspective in the second half of the thesis, in particular his theory of “the ego’s era”, a historical turn in Lacan’s work uncovered by Brennan in History After Lacan. The thesis locates technology and the human in relation to modernism and modernity, and then examines Kafka’s In the Penal Colony, Mann’s The Magic Mountain, and Renard’s Death and the Shell in terms of the culturally significant interconnections of writing, memory and death, drawing these ideas together around the paradox of how phonography seems to “kill” or “silence” the voice at the same time it renders it “immortal”. Lacan’s theory of history can be productively deployed to account for the relative absence, in comparison to photography and cinema, of theoretical accounts of phonography up to the 1970s, but also to interpret the cultural significance of phonography understood as prosthetic listening versus prosthetic speech. Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism is read as a site of prosthetic listening, and Eliot’s The Waste Land as an articulation of prosthetic speech, where these works are respectively understood as an articulation of, and a possible counter-current to, the characteristic attributes of the ego’s era.
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